April 24, 2009

Brain Orchestra Performs At Conference In Prague

The Multimodal Brain Orchestra made its debut appearance at the Science Beyond Fiction conference in Prague on Thursday.

The orchestra uses technology from the laboratory for Synthetic Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems (SPECS) to allow members to play musical instruments through Brain Computer Interface technology alone.

The orchestra is led by an emotional conductor who leads by means of her physiological state.

SPECS' Brain Orchestra presented a piece called XMotion.

"Where Emotions refer to the passions that drive our actions in the real world, Xmotions are those affective states that can be generated and experienced by the unmediated brain that is immersed in and takes charge of the multi modal jungle in which it find itself," SPECS said in a written statement.

"Only recently we have come to appreciate more the tight coupling between mind, brain and body," Paul Verschure, head of the project, told the audience.

"But we can wonder what the mind and brain would be capable of if it would be directly interfaced to the world, bypassing the body."

The four orchestra members presented the scored piece by maintaining control of the variations of visuals, sounds, frequencies and volumes.

"Everything is built to fulfill the circumplex model, which was worked out by psychologists that study emotions," Anna Mura, a biologist who is the producer of the project, told BBC News.

"How we feel and what we feel fits into a circle cut into four quadrants, labeled by 'arousal' and 'valence', that is, how much you're excited and how badly or positively you're excited."

Each member wore electro-filled hats that used electroencephalographs (EEG) to interpret brain activity.

"There is a first violin, a second violin and so on, except that instead of violins they are brains," said Mura.

Two performers watched a screen that contained flashing rows and columns of letters. Each of them was instructed to look for a particular letter.

When expectation is fulfilled, it creates a signal known as the P300 in the EEG.

The P300 signal is denoted by a dot on the EEG that is shown to the audience by being interpreted into a particular sound.

Two other brain orchestra performers received boxes with four flashing lights. The SSVEP is a brain signal that comes about when visual stimulus in the retina at a given frequency causes the brain to synchronize, so that frequency appears in the EEG.

The conductor actively instructed the performers to direct their attention from one flashing light to another, resulting in a series of sounds.

The emotional conductor performs is connected to an EEG cap while equipped with a pair of virtual reality glasses that display images created by Behdad Rezazadeh.

The emotional conductor's heart rate and skin conductance are being measured and marked alongside the EEG reading.

"This performance is like her emotional experience," Mura told BBC News.

"What we want to show here is the use of your brain without your body. Embodiment - we should get rid of it sometimes."

"People believe that to understand how we feel will help us to understand what consciousness is all about. This is the technology that is going in that direction; we cannot explain consciousness with this but we are at least exploring the surface of it."


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